Going from employee to self-employed means you are now in charge of what you do, when you do it. Whilst this can be liberating, it can also be intimidating, and lead you towards working 14+ hours a day because there will always be something that needs done.
On the one hand you need to be doing enough to be earning enough to pay the bills, keep your clients happy, and generally make sure your business is ticking over.
On the other hand, you're still going to need time off. Not just holidays, but at evenings and weekends where it's good to switch off from all thoughts of work. If you neglect to do this, it can put a strain on relationships at home, as well as lead to higher levels of stress and potential burnout.
You also need to make sure that you're getting the most out of the hours when you are working. This doesn't necessarily mean being as busy as possible, but planning tasks so that you're getting the best results from the work you put in.
On this episode we're introduced to a new guest, business coach Laura Lucas. She's joined by our regular contributors, AdWords specialist Andy Brown, photographer Julie Christie, and recruitment consultant Patricia McGuire.
There's a couple of very good books on focus and general productivity that are well worth a read. The first is The One Thing by Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan. This book drums a new way of looking at tasks into you, and encourages you to ditch multitasking, unnecessary work, and to take things one step at a time.
The second one is The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. Don't be fooled by the title, you probably won't end up working only 4 hours a week, but this book is an incredible manifesto against procrastination, doing pointless and unnecessary work, living in your email inbox, and generally doing too much on your own.
I think because I enjoy my work so much as well, it's hard not to just work when you have spare time. I have to say, I'm not really there with that yet.
I’m Colin Gray, and this is UK Business Startup. Where we’re about the get productive. If you’ve been following along, there’s a chance you’ve made the leap by now. Are you already working for yourself? Or your own company of course. If you are, I want to ask you this: how many times have you been asked about whether you work in nothing but your pants? It always seems to me that 99% of the working world think that the main advantage of self-employment is not having to wear clothes.
And of course that is part of it to be fair. But the other part, the more serious one, is suddenly being in control of your own working life. Now you can choose what you do, and when you do it. It’s freedom, at last! Or is it?
The problem is, businesses tend to be more than a job. They’re 3 jobs, 5 jobs, even 10 all rolled into one. Especially in the early days, you’re doing everything. Suddenly freedom looks like 14 hour days, 7 days a week. Because there’s always something to do.That’s why, this week, we’re talking about your working life. That means schedule, priortities, productivity and making sure you have a real life alongside it all. Let’s look at the small view first – one day. When no one’s telling you what to do, how the heck do you make the most of it?
Laura Lucas: I was quite used to that from sort of my corporate job I suppose. I was always a team leader and had to plan the direction of the department. Not just plan my own days, but plan the days of my teams and things like that as well, so, it wasn't something that was completely new to me.
That is Laura Lucas, a new guest on UK Business Startup. She’s a business coach at Inspirential and works on her own. This is how she starts to plan her day.
Laura Lucas: I know that I want to help as many business owners and leaders as I can. That means I need to find those business owners and show them what I can do to help them, and get them on on-board with me. That's then broken down into a number of different activities, so putting up information online that's going to attract those sorts of people, going out and meeting people proactively through networking. Then getting them into meetings and showing them my expertise and making sales ultimately. I've got to make sure I'm doing those sorts of activities every, single day. That helps knowing what the overall goal is.
So, this is it – our days aren’t really our days. They’re just one small part of the wider goal.
Patricia McGuire: I think you have to be quite strict with yourself that you set aside some time just for you, and not only time just for you, but time to think, because it's very easy to get bogged down in your day-to-day business. A business needs you to stop and think about what's coming next, and the mistakes that you've made and how you can rectify them.
Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the real detail on how to plan your working day, but this comes first. The only way you’re going to have an effective day – and to grow your business – is by having each day move you just a little bit forward towards your main goal. Patricia McGuire said it well there – it’s really easy to get bogged down, to end up doing busy-work that doesn’t push you forward. It sounds ridiculous when your income depends on avoiding that, but it happens to us all.
Laura Lucas: I started to fall into that trap probably early last summer. I had a period when I was really, really busy. Then I have two times in the month when I do my accounts, because I don't have masses of transactions in my business. I just sit down for half-an-hour, twice a month and do that. I sat down and realized that I hadn't brought in any new business for three weeks, even though I had been really busy. That gave me a real wake-up call. It was quite lucky that I did that. You can be a busy fool can't you?
Laura has a good method there. She’s got a system in place, every fortnight, where she checks her progress. Her aim is clients – she wants to help as many people as she can, and earn an income from that of course. So, she sits down – fortnightly accounts – what’s my goal? New clients? Have I brought any in? No! Well, damn… Let’s see – what can I do to change that?
Once you’ve got your overall goals, how do we start to break it down so it leads us to effective days?
Laura Lucas: I'll make a sort of three month plan really. For making detailed plans, I find three months is about the right timescale for me, and I'll know what I want to achieve in that three months, and break it down into step-by-step tasks. Then each week, I try and batch task and stick to the same sort of activities.
Julie Christie: I would say, have a schedule for every day or for every week. Plan your week ahead and schedule in all your tasks, and give them priorities. What's the most important? What's the least important? Put them in that order. Schedule them into your diary.
That was Julie Christie from Tea Break Tog joining the show, and giving a good example of where the long term planning leads us. Once you have your 3 month plan, you break than down into monthly goals, and then weekly goals. Once you have that level of detail, you’re ready to really schedule in the work.
Laura Lucas: Mostly on a Monday, I'm in the office doing things like, writing blog posts, writing social media posts, writing new material for clients and things. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, are a mixture of seeing clients and meeting new, prospective clients and things. On Friday, I generally only work the morning on a Friday, and that's more for projects, and really thinking about moving the business forward. I stick to that as much as I can, it doesn't have to be perfect, but each week with my three month plan, I sit down on a Thursday afternoon and plan what my next week's going to look like. All the activities that are coming up, I actually put them into slots in my calendar.
I do the same – monthly goals, to weekly goals, to small tasks. Those are then scheduled into the calendar on Monday morning. You’re probably thinking it sounds a bit of a pain to stick to that – a bit onerous – but it’s exactly the opposite actually.
Laura Lucas: When I'm sitting at my desk, I never have to think about, “Oh what should I do next?” I know what I have what I have to next because when you have that uncertainty, that's when procrastination can creep in. But if you know exactly what you're going to do, you can just get your head down and do it.
It’s ironic, because one of the big attractions of going self-employed is the chance to be your own boss. But, the thing is, that freedom comes with a big price, and procrastination is a big one. This type of scheduling is kind of like creating a little boss in a spreadsheet – someone who’s telling you what to do every minute of the day. And with that discipline comes a whole new type of freedom. The freedom that comes with knowing that you’re not missing things, you’re not wasting your time. You’re moving forward, just a little bit, every single day.
So, what if you want to start off a little easier. You’re not ready to go full-schedule. What’s the alternative?
Andy Brown: It's always a tough one isn't it, the productivity, getting it in order?
This is Andy Brown from TripleYourClients.com whose helped us out before.
Andy Brown: I use products like Allthings and Slack and Evernote to control and also a pen and paper comes in very useful at the end of the evening when you're trying to work out, right what's a priority of the next day? I'm a strong believer in having all that technology, but sometimes you just need to sort of reach back and think, “Right, what have we got on my plate?” I've got some sticky notes all over the place and bits of paper. I put it in an Allthings list or I look at an Evernote, things to do file, and I'll work through that. Generally, to make sure that I'm getting the stuff done, I need to prioritize, and so I need to work out what the top three things are the next day.
Andy’s method is a good start. At a minimum, at least finish the day by planning your next one. What are the next 2 or 3 jobs that’ll move your business forward? Get them down on a sheet of paper, and get them done first the next day.
Laura Lucas: I also tend to use a timer, quite a lot, as well. I'll set the Pomodoro Technique, I don't know if you've heard of that one? It basically works on twenty-five minute intervals. You set a timer for twenty-five minutes, and you work for twenty-five minutes, then you stop and have a five minute break and do another twenty-five minutes. What find's good about it is, you can sit there and think, “All right, I need to write this blog post,” and maybe it's going to take as long as it takes, and then you'll get half way through and you'll be like, “Oh, I'll just have a wee look on Facebook,” or something like that, but if you've got twenty-five minutes, you think, “Right, I'm going to focus on this for twenty-five minutes,” and I'll kind of race myself in that twenty-five minutes to get the first draft of the blog post written. If my mind starts to wander, I'll think, “Oh, I'm at seventeen minutes, I've only got eight minutes to finish this,” and it just keeps me on track.
The Pomodoro technique is pretty well known in productivity circles. It’s a great way to break up your day and stay productive. Chop any task into 25 minute sections and have a wee 5 minute break at the end. That’s your reward for a good chunk of focus, as Laura says.
The problem is, this is all easy said, not so easily done. Your business tends to have a life of it’s own and, in my experience at least, it fights against the work I do to manage it. I’ve already mentioned the long days and the 7 day working week. It’s an easy trap to fall into. So how can we deal with that?
Patricia McGuire: When you're thinking about your workload as a new business or an entrepreneur it's very important that you make some time for yourself within the week, because you will very quickly become burnt out. Starting a business, running a business, owning a business takes up practically every second of your time, your mental space.
Andy Brown: The lifestyle I have, if I'm feeling stressed, or feeling as if the world's on top of me, or on my shoulders, then I can just open the door and walk the dog. As simple as that is, it means that I can get out there and then get back, and I'm in a better frame of mind to attack the day.
You knew it was coming – this is the eternal struggle with work life balance. It’s bad enough when you’re working for a company, but as soon as you’re the ultimate boss, it jumps by a factor of 10. How do you keep the endless task list under control, but still have a life?
Julie Christie: I am not good with boundaries between work and person life. It's something that's on my to-do list, is to try and be better at that. I work from home, so it's really hard to create those boundaries, and to keep them, because I can see my desk. Everywhere I go in my house, it's all open plan, I can see my desk, and that's really hard to stop yourself from working. I think probably having a separate workplace from your living quarters is a really good idea, which is something I don't have yet, and I hope to have. I think that will really improve that situation. I think because I enjoy my work so much as well, it's hard not to just work when you have spare time. I have to say, I'm not really there with that yet.
Julie’s situation is really common – A lot of people that start working for themselves have no office so you’re just taking up a desk at home. The problem is, you love the work, you’re passionate about it, so it doesn’t feel like a stress to just get something done when you have a spare minute. But that means evenings, weekends, and as much as that doesn’t bother you right then, long term, that’s not good. You need the downtime. And, of course, that’s not even considering others in your life yet.
Andy Brown: It is tough because you don't want to be working all hours. You've got to respect the hours of the people that's around, your children and your partner or your wife, whatever, you really need to be respectful of that because if they've had a hard day working, they come in and you're still working, then you've got to acknowledge that they're in a down time, and then you might still be in a project. It can get tough.
Laura Lucas: I started to more and more schedule my down time, which sounds a wee bit sad actually, but I find if I schedule things, I schedule fun things in. If I know I've got loads of fun stuff to do at the weekend, I don't have time to do it housework, so I know I need to do housework in the evenings.
Julie Christie: When work is over, it's over. You close that computer down and you leave. I would definitely say, try and have very clear boundaries, physical boundaries. If you work from home very physical boundaries, where you work and where you play, so that you can close that door and forget about it. That's something I can't do. However, I do try and schedule what I'm doing each week, and what I'm doing each day, so that I can get through that work and hopefully close it down at the end, and leave until the next day.
I mean, it’s all common sense, but it’s also commonly ignored. And there’s always situations where you HAVE to ignore it. I mean, if that client job needs finished tomorrow and it’s not quite done, then who else is going to do it? In situations like that, Andy’s suggestion is good – he mentioned respect for the people around you. Talk to your partner, your kids, tell them the situation. Communication really is key. If you do that, the occasional (or not so occasional) late night won’t be quite so much trouble.
Now, let’s have a quick look at the other type of overworking. And this one’s a lot more insidious.
Laura Lucas: I do a lot networking via social media, and that's where the boundaries get really blurred, because I really enjoy it. It's a fun social thing, and it's a work thing. Sometimes I can be telling myself, “Oh, I'm doing this because it's a work thing,” but I'm actually, pretty much, just wasting my time and wasting the energy, and not being present for my family. It's something I've been conscious of, certainly the last week or so. I actually have times when I go and put the phone away in a different room, switch it off for an hour or so, and make sure that I'm taking breaks from it.
I’m a bad one for this. My wife’s watching something on TV, I’m not that bothered, so I’ll pull out the laptop and just fiddle away with a few easy tasks. Get a few things out of the way. Laura’s right, though, I’m not present, and it’s cuts out any chance of chat, whether it’s about the program or life. It also means I’m not really relaxing, and after a few days of that, you do notice it. It keeps that base level of stress and anxiety much higher. I can tell you from experience, it’s really not good for you. Keep working time deliberate, and don’t let it bleed over.
Laura Lucas: Sometimes I make a conscious choice to spend an hour, usually what I'll do in the evenings, because I’m a morning person, by evenings I'm not really up for doing much hard work, but I'll maybe do a bit of research or I'll do a wee bit of sort social media networking with a work head on, kind of thing. For me, it's a mixture between work and fun. It is a conscious decision to do a wee bit of work some evenings, and if I've got a project going on. Yeah, it's definitely planning in the things, the fun things and the family things that you want to do. Then you have to make the work fit around that.
A conscious decision, that’s the key. Plus, of course, we’re not ruling out a flexible schedule. That’s one of the reasons we do this, after all. Work whenever you like, as long as there is some downtime in there.
Andy Brown: I've never found it difficult to pick up the pieces late in the evening and get on with three or four, five hours more work. A lot of people would struggle with that. They would find it almost impossible. Like anyone, I enjoy TV, films, just chilling out in the evening, but I can chill out in the evening, and then still go back to work afterwards. That's a sure sign that I enjoy what I'm doing, and when also there's a pressing need to get the work done, but everyone would make an excuse about that, even if when it's their own business and that might be a reason why they fail.
That’s the second time this has come up, loving your work. “a sure sign I enjoy what I’m doing” as Andy said. That’s usually the biggest benefit of running your own business, and it makes up for all of the downsides, for me. But, as we’ve heard, you’ve got to watch it doesn’t lead you into the trap of never quite switching off.
Ok, I know the objection that’s popping out of your mouth right now. And it’s something that’s both the lifeblood of our business, and the bane of our existence. Yea, I’m talking about clients.
Laura Lucas: Yeah it is really tricky. For me, it's not been so much an issue of accessibility. I've set pretty firm boundaries with my clients that, yes, they can contact me, but I'm often with other clients, so I tend not to take phone calls. It tends to mostly be through email unless it's by prior arrangement. They're usually clear that I might not even answer them that day. For example, someone might be emailing me right now, I'll go home from here, I'll be straight into kids and chaos, and then it's evening. I might answer them this evening, but they already know that it might be tomorrow before I answer them, so that's not so much the issue.
Laura’s spot on there – clients are trainable. They’ll expect what you lead them to expect. So if you answer an email, even once, at the weekend, then they’ll expect that from then on. It’s the clichéd advice – communicate with them, set those boundaries that Laura mentioned, and coach them to expect a reasonable amount from you. I’ve often found that being less available actually makes a client take you more seriously. It shows you’re running an established business with real systems and processes.
Laura Lucas: I think that's all right, especially because I coach my clients on setting clear boundaries, and not always being completely on, and completely accessible, so it's up to me to kind of set that example as well. So, when I say, “I'm taking a week off, off the grid,” I think people get it. I don't think it's that big of a deal.
Some of you might have more than just clients. You might have an audience. If you’re putting out great quality content – like a blog, a podcast, videos, even printed materials, how do you deal with a break there?
Laura Lucas: So if I'm not there, then there's maybe blog posts not going out. There's maybe stuff on social media not happening, but I can schedule those things in advance. I can either decide to check in with them while I'm on holiday, just interact with social media posts and things like that, or I can just make it clear to my audience that I'm actually taking a week off.
Again, it’s communication! Tell people what’s happening and – funnily enough – they’ll understand! If they like youre material, they know you’re a human being. And that means time off, every now and again.
Ok, I’m going to start to tie this up. The final thing I want to cover is about something a bit deeper. Not only managing the work you do, but CHOOSING the work you do.
Laura Lucas: I was actually listening to Michael Hyatt's Podcast this morning. He was talking about, now what was the phrase he used? “Doing less to achieve more.” He talked about how when we say, “Yes,” to something, we're actually saying, “No,” to something else. For example, I've said, “yes,” to coming here and doing this podcast, it means I'm saying, “No,” to going home and writing another blog post, for example. It's just being very conscious about these things.
This is huge. Especially when you’re starting out, you feel like you have to say yes to everything. You can’t pass up an opportunity. But, remember what Julia said in the marketing episode? She talked about finding the right clients, and how beneficial that is in the long run.
Laura’s mentioned a good method there, and the way I do it, something I heard years ago, is the No or Hell yes! Test. If someone asks you to do something, and the answer isn’t a massive hell yes, then it should be a no. Don’t take on anything that makes you less than excited.
Chris Marr, who you’ve heard on previous episodes, does the ‘tomorrow’ test. So, If I was asked to do this tomorrow, would I say yes? We let a lot of average or time sucking things sneak into the diary because they seem far off at the time. But then, when it actually is tomorrow, you often end up thinking, why on earth did I say I’d do this…
Ok, I know, easier said than done, and we’ve all taken on work in the early days just to pay the bills. But keep what Laura said in your mind – everything you say yes to, is saying no to something else.
Laura Lucas: For me, certainly, in my business, I have to be not worried about money, so that I can be present to solve my clients problems. If I'm at the back of my mind thinking, “Where am I going to get the next client?” I'm not actually doing a good job for them. Yeah, I actually set money goals every month and set activities around those money goals that are daily. I make sure I'm taking proactive action to make money every, single day.
That’s just it – that one action, every day, helps to ease any anxiety about money. It needs to be built into your long term plans, as well as your daily schedule. That’s what brings in more clients, more work, more sales, all of which helps you to do the work you love.
In the end, it’s a combination of everything we’ve talked about that leads to a healthy business. Long term goals which lead to clear tasks. Tools which shuffle them into productive days. Clear boundaries around when you’re on and when you’re off. Deep thought about what work you actually take on.
No one gets this right straight away, and even with years of experience, you’ll fall off the wagon from time to time. But, keep it all in mind, and you’re already ahead of 90% of the businesses out there.
This was UK Business Startup, and thanks for following on with another episode. As always, you can find a summary and everything we’ve mentioned here at podhost.me/startup. Something I’m wondering about this week – is there anyone you know who would find this show useful? If there is, it would be amazing if you could pass it on. Tell them about the show, tell them how to subscribe – I’d really appreciate it. It helps us to get the show out there to more people – help us many people as possible. Feel free to copy us into a tweet to them if you like and I’ll do my best to talk them into it too! You can get us @thepodcasthost on Twitter. This show was produced by The Podcast Host and you can check out all of our work on how to podcast at thepodcasthost.com
Next time on the show, we’re talking about Networking. How the people you meet and get to know have a huge effect on your business, and I’m talking much more than just clients. I’ll see you then!